Etymology of Religion


Religion is the belief in a deity or multiple deities, usually involving organized belief systems and rituals.

The first written record of the word religion dates back to somewhere between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The latin religare (to bind) is believed to be a predecessor of religio/religionis (obligation, bond), which was later adapted by the Old French (religion) and Anglo-Norman (religiun).

Note that several theories have arisen around the word religion, and even now we can’t know for sure if religare is actually related to religion. According to Sarah F. Hoyt’s The Etymology of Religion, the connection between the words religion and religare is one that is favored by modern writers.

The word religion in a few common languages:

Greek

θρησκεία

Portuguese

Religião

Italian

Religione

German

Religion

Chinese

宗教 (Zōngjiào)

French

Religion

Japanese

宗教 (Shūkyō)

Swedish

Religion

Korean

종교 (jong-gyo)

Spanish

Religión

Religion in human societies has existed since time immemorial.


Unfortunately, we don’t have much access to the religious habits of people from, say 4000 BCE.

This is because writing hadn’t yet been invented. Nevertheless, we’ve been able to gather information from various sources and painted the picture of the prehistory of religion.

We do know that three hundred thousands years ago there were acts of ceremonial burial.

Did ancient cavemen have a word for religion? In fact, did Homo Sapiens even understand the concept of religion?

Anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists seem to think so, as many of them believe that early humans moved in large groups and possessed some capacity for language.

While it’s possible that ancient humans grasped the concept of religion, would they really have a word for it?

The Bible does not talk about cavemen or prehistory, since the mythology of the Bible claims that Eve and Adam came into being from out of nowhere and did not evolve from something else.

Interesting questions to think about.

One last thing: the word religion is (according to Corpus of Contemporary American English) considered to be the 1390th most commonly used word in the English language. Food is number 367, for reference.

References:

Hoyt, Sarah. The Etymology of Religion. 1912.